Sharp among top left wings in the league
|Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks|
Who are the best 14 players in the NHL at each position as teams prepare for the start of the 2014-15 season? Arpon Basu, Brian Compton, Corey Masisak and Dan Rosen have cast their votes and the result is NHL.com's "Top 14 for '14-15" project. Each first-place vote is worth 14 points, each second-place vote is worth 13, continuing in descending order to each 14th-place vote being worth one. There are two tiebreakers. First, which player appeared on more ballots? Second, which player had the highest individual ranking? If the voting was exactly the same for each player, it was declared a tie. Does NHL.com's list match your rankings for the best players in the League entering the 2014-15 campaign?
Left wing has become the hot spot for elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League.
There have been more left wings to score 30 goals in the past four seasons (34) than any other position, including nine of the 21 players who scored at least 30 goals last season. That group doesn't include Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who is technically a right wing but still scores the majority of his goals from the left side.
Last season, left wing was a productive position for a pair of former centers. Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks moved from the middle to the left side, and each had the best season of his career.
Even the proverbial old-guard of left wings features a number of players in the middle of their prime years, including Zach Parise, Patrick Sharp, Rick Nash, Alexander Steen, Milan Lucic, Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Andrew Ladd and Brad Marchand. Max Pacioretty is 25 years old, so he's just now entering his prime.
The talent pool is deep, which made determining the top 14 left wings in the NHL a difficult task. Twenty-one players received at least one vote on the four ballots cast; the four ballots featured three different players ranked first.
Here is NHL.com's list of the top-14 left wings in the NHL:
Benn has improved in each of his five NHL seasons, but last season he moved to the left wing and teamed with an elite center in Tyler Seguin to put up career-best numbers across the board, including 28 even-strength goals, which was third in the League. General manager Jim Nill has finally put the pieces around Benn to make the Stars a contender. Benn also won gold with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He turned 25 in July.
Parise is arguably the most difficult left wing to match up against because of his relentless pursuit of the puck, particularly on the forecheck, and his fearlessness in front of the net. He is a five-time 30-goal scorer, including his career-high of 45 with the New Jersey Devils in 2008-09. He likely would have been a 30-goal scorer last season if not for a foot injury.
Pavelski is typically a center, but he played primarily on the wing last season after Tomas Hertl sustained his knee injury in December. He teamed with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns to put up career-best numbers in goals, points and power-play goals (16). With Burns moving back to defense, Pavelski might move back at center to start this season.
The Blackhawks love the stretch pass, which suits Sharp's game perfectly. He's on the receiving end of many of them because his speed and awareness allow him to clear the zone quickly and get into open ice, behind the defense. He has 194 goals in the past seven seasons, second most on the Blackhawks behind captain Jonathan Toews' 195.
Hall jumped into elite territory last season with 27 goals and 53 assists, tying his previous career-best in goals and blowing away his previous career-best in assists (34). In four seasons, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft has developed into a leader and arguably the most important player on the Oilers. His combination of speed, passing, shooting and the ability to get to the net has made him one of the top forwards in the NHL.
Landeskog's effort was matched by his consistent production last season. His longest scoring drought was five games, which happened once. He scored at least one point in 46 games (15 multipoint games) and finished with career bests in goals, assists (39) and points. Colorado's captain has emerged as one of the League's premier power forwards. He's 21 years old.
Pacioretty had a 14.4 percent shooting percentage last season, which was nearly five percentage points above his previous career average (9.8 percent). While good luck contributed to his career-best 39 goals, don't let the jump in shooting percentage fool you too much, even if regression is expected. Pacioretty scored 33 goals in his only other full NHL season (79 games in 2011-12), and he did it shooting 11.5 percent. If he stays healthy and continues shooting, Pacioretty should continue to score 30-plus goals per season.
Injuries, inconsistent play, bad luck (7.1 percent shooting percentage) and playing separate from twin brother Henrik Sedin contributed to Sedin's sub-par 2013-14 season. His numbers (16 goals, 31 assists, 47 points) were his worst in a full NHL season since 2002-03. His 7.1 percent shooting percentage was the worst of his career. Sedin averaged 29.5 goals in eight seasons from 2003-12. If he stays healthy, reunites on a full-time basis with his brother and potentially Radim Vrbata, and gets a little luckier he should score 30 or more again.
Marleau has been among the NHL's most consistently productive forwards for the better part of the past 16 seasons. Part of that is because of his remarkably good health. He has missed only 31 games in his career, none since the 2008-09 season. Marleau is sixth in games played among active players with 1,247. He has scored between 30 and 44 goals in each of the past five full seasons, and at least 25 goals in 10 of the past 12 seasons.
Steen comes off career bests in goals, points, game-winning goals (9) and shooting percentage (15.6). He shot 5.9 percentage points better than his career average entering last season. He already showed regression by scoring six goals over the final 27 games after scoring 27 in his first 41 games. However, Steen is not a one-dimensional player. His goals last season were in addition to his normally excellent play in all areas of the ice. Even if his production regresses, he will still be a valuable player under a new three-year contract.
Nash scored 26 goals (22 at even strength) despite missing 17 games with a concussion early in the season, but his value to the Rangers goes beyond just production. He has become one of their most important penalty-killers and routinely plays against the opposition's top forwards in a shutdown role. He's relied on to be as good away from the puck as he is with it. That said, Nash needs to produce more than he did in last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs (three goals, 10 points, 25 games).
Skinner set the bar high for himself as a rookie in the 2010-11 season, when he scored 31 goals and had 63 points in 82 games, good enough to win the Calder Trophy. He followed that with two relatively down seasons but was back up last season with a career-best 33 goals and 274 shots on goal. Despite Carolina's woeful power play (28th in the NHL at 14.6 percent), Skinner was dangerous with 11 power-play goals. Carolina coach Bill Peters has compared him to Patrick Kane because of his explosiveness coming off the half wall. He's 22 years old.
Kane is a lightning rod for criticism and the constant subject of trade rumors, but he is the Jets' most prolific 5-on-5 scorer when he's healthy. He scored at least one point in 33 of his 63 games last season. His longest scoring drought was three games, which happened three times. Kane didn't benefit from the power play, as only one of his 19 goals was scored with the man advantage. He's a possession driver for the Jets and he plays in all situations.
Lucic is the poster boy for power forwards. He's big (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) and vicious, yet skilled with soft hands. He has averaged 26.6 goals, 60.6 points, a 16.8-percent shooting percentage and 80 games played in the past three full seasons. He shed some penalty minutes last season, and it resulted in him being on the ice a career-best 17:22 per game.
Others receiving votes: Tomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild (7 points); James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs (4 points); Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks (4 points); Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres (3 points); Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins (2 points); Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets (2 points); Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (2 points)
|TOP 14 LEFT WINGS (VOTING BREAKDOWN)|
||Brian Compton||Corey Masisak
|1. Parise||1. Sharp||1. Benn||1. Benn|
|2. Benn||2. Marleau||2. Pavelski||2. Parise|
|3. Pavelski||3. Hall||3. Parise||3. Hall|
|4. Steen||4. Benn||4. Pacioretty||4. Pavelski|
|5. Pacioretty||5. Parise||5. Hall||5. Sharp|
|6. Sharp||6. Landeskog||6. Sharp||6. Landeskog|
|7. D. Sedin||7. Pavelski||7. D. Sedin||7. Nash|
|8. Hall||8. Pacioretty||8. Nash||8. E. Kane|
|9. Landeskog||9. Lucic||9. Steen||9. Skinner|
|10. E. Kane||10. Vanek||10. Marleau||10. D. Sedin|
|11. Skinner||11. D. Sedin||11. Landeskog||11. Saad|
|12. van Riemsdyk||12. Moulson||12. Lucic||12. Marleau|
|13. Vanek||13. Marchand||13. Skinner||13. Ladd|
|14. Nash||14. Kunitz||14. Kunitz||14. van Riemsdyk|